Ben Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes in the first half against the Ravens.The old guy who came down from the TV booth Monday night drew the loudest ovation when the all-time team of the Steelers 75th Season was introduced at Heinz Field.
The reaction from the crowd might have been louder had there been two quarterbacks selected to the all-time team instead of one. Ben Roethlisberger would have given Terry Bradshaw a run for his money.
In fact, he is. Roethlisberger's record-tying five touchdown passes Monday, all in the first half, lifted his total to a career-high 20 halfway through the season. That puts him on pace to shatter Bradshaw's Steelers record of 28 set during their third Super Bowl season of 1978.
Roethlisberger, who has a bruised hip that won't keep him out of the game Sunday against Cleveland, has the second-best passer rating in the NFL at 111.9, behind Tom Brady's 131.8. His 20 touchdown passes are second to Brady's 33.
A generation after Bradshaw's retirement, the Steelers finally have a worthy successor at quarterback.
A few years from now, that all-time team could look outdated because Roethlisberger was not on it. Monday, he leaped over three more former Steelers quarterbacks to become the second-most prolific touchdown thrower in their history with 72. It's a far cry from Bradshaw's record 212 over 14 seasons but Roethlisberger, at 25, is just warming up.
He certainly is off to a faster start than the popular Bradshaw, a Hall of Famer and two-time Super Bowl MVP with four rings. Bradshaw, like Roethlisberger a starter as a rookie, threw 41 touchdown passes in his first four seasons and had 73 interceptions.
Bradshaw played on a rebuilding team his first few years, and the style of play was much different than it is today. Still, Roethlisberger's stats from his 3 1/2 seasons are impressive stacked next to the man known as the Blonde Bomber. Roethlisberger has thrown 72 touchdown passes and 49 interceptions.
He is on pace for 40 touchdowns this season, something previously considered beyond reach playing on a team that traditionally prefers to run. Peyton Manning holds the NFL record with 49, although Brady seems destined to erase that. Coach Mike Tomlin said he is not surprised by Roethlisberger's pace.
"He has all the physical talent," Tomlin said yesterday. "He's big. He's strong. He's mobile. He can make any throw on the field. He's a smart guy.
"He looks like the 11th pick in the draft. Those guys have all the physical skills. Then the question is: Do they have the intangibles? That's what I was interested in and that's what I've been impressed with thus far from him."
Tomlin likes to say he was not here last year, so he did not know what occurred, but Roethlisberger has taken more of a leadership role in the offense. Coordinator Bruce Arians told his quarterback in the spring it was Roethlisberger's offense and invited him to help rework the playbook and involved him more in the game plan.
"I've only been here one year," Tomlin said. "Those leadership kinds of things don't really show themselves during the offseason. Live bullets have to be flying for those things to be showing themselves. I sensed those characteristics in him back in the spring, but he's confirming them now."
Tomlin was taken to task by some when he put Roethlisberger back into the game in the fourth quarter after he missed 1 1/2 series with a hip injury that occurred when Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs shoved him out of bounds after he completed a pass.
Why risk it with the Steelers ahead 35-7? Tomlin said Monday night that Roethlisberger was persuasive, and Roethlisberger said he wanted to return because his "guys," particularly the offensive linemen, were still on the field.
Roethlisberger might have had a sixth touchdown pass because Santonio Holmes streaked wide open on a post as the quarterback was sacked. Tomlin took him out in favor of Charlie Batch after that series.
Yesterday, the coach said he had no second thoughts about putting him back into the game.
"He got complete medical clearance from our medical staff," Tomlin said. "He had a desire to do it. He's a competitor. This is a competitive game played by competitive men, coached by competitive men. Guys walk on the field; they desire to walk off the field. I wanted to give him that."
Roethlisberger again excelled in another area Monday night -- on third down. Three of his first four touchdown passes came on third down. He ranks second in the NFL with a 117.6 passer rating on third downs, and his 10.23-yard average on third-down attempts tops every quarterback in the league.
"As the kitchen gets hot, the chefs display themselves," is how Tomlin explained it.
And Roethlisberger is cooking up some kind of season, perhaps the best of any Steelers quarterback.